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Community and Creative Spirit 

Recalling from the Source at Goudi'ni Native American Arts Gallery

Lyn Risling's (Karuk, Yurok, Hupa) "Achiphaan (center man)," painting, 2019.

Photo by L.L. Kessner

Lyn Risling's (Karuk, Yurok, Hupa) "Achiphaan (center man)," painting, 2019.

A showcase of local Native art, Recalling from the Source at Cal Poly Humboldt's Goudi'ni Native American Arts Gallery features a mix of traditional and contemporary art practices, materials, symbols and themes, and includes Native artists at all levels of experience. The exhibition includes more than 30 artists with objects as diverse as delicately beaded jewelry and sculpture, evocative abstract paintings, exquisite woven baskets, moving personal mixed-media works, handmade garments and a large representation of Tony Soprano.

Brittany Britton, director of the Goudi'ni and Reese Bullen galleries, explains the show's origins date all the way back to the late '80s. From the Source was an annual showcase of local Native art organized through Humboldt Arts Council and then the Ink People. This year marks the first year it's being held at the Goudi'ni, which turns 10 this season and is the only Native-focused gallery in the California State University system. Britton says the transition to Goudi'ni makes sense this year, with a change in leadership at the Ink People coming at the same time as the reopening of campus galleries, which closed during the pandemic. She says the show offers an opportunity for the local Native artist community to "check back in" during this time of readjustment for everyone.

"Recalling From the Source offers a snapshot of Native arts in our community," Britton states. The work for the show was gathered through an open call. All Native artists living in the area were welcome to contribute and Britton, along with established participating artists like Alme Allen, reached out to emerging artists, sometimes discovered through word of mouth, sometimes through Instagram. Britton notes their common goal of promoting and encouraging younger and less experienced artists.

Britton says the show gives a sense of the visual aspects of local Native culture: colors, themes and symbology. The exhibition includes the work of artists with a huge range of experience. Prominent and acclaimed artist Brian Tripp, who died last May, has art in the show, as does Cal Poly and Indian Tribal and Educational Personnel Program student Charlena Valencia, painter of "Tony Soprano," who took Beginning Painting at Cal Poly last semester.

Cal Poly student Elin Perry, who attended the opening of the show, described the experience as "impactful," noting the interesting combination of historical and modern themes in the exhibition.

Fellow student Juan Leon-Castillo helped hang the show in Berit Potter's Museum and Gallery Practices class. He said the class used equations to position the art at the proper heights and worked together to make sure everything was straight and centered.

Both students commented on the colorful and detailed acrylic paintings of Lyn Risling, which combine geometric patterning with animal imagery in vast landscapes. Perry was struck by the use of color, particularly the combinations of purples and oranges. Leon-Castillo, too, remarked on Risling's use of color, describing lines of transparent color interacting with layers of differing values.

Exhibiting artist Julian Lang echoed Britton's sentiments, emphasizing the opportunity for the community to come together through the show, and the importance of encouraging emerging Native artists. He describes how Tripp, who was involved with From the Source from its early days and first incarnations, worked to gather artists from around the community for the annual exhibition.

Lang, a local Native language and culture teacher, has two pieces in the show: one narrative and the other more abstract. The narrative one depicts a creation story in which the moon has three wives: grizzly bear, rattlesnake and frog. Lang's artistic practice includes two different approaches, one planned and one intuitive. For the intuitive process, he marks up the blank canvas or board with a spontaneous kind of splash and then lets the work tell him what it is. Perhaps a story comes to mind, he says. Sometimes though the work is non-figurative. He describes these non-figurative images as biomorphic, and says this style of drawing extends back to his early drawings from the '80s and '90s, and they tell a pictographic story. Lang explains this method of working allows a message to be revealed to the artist through the creative process.

Lang has his own message he wishes to communicate to younger artists — a shout-out, he says, encouraging them to continue to make art. He says it is important that art be a part of the discussion of Native lives because, "Our belief says we are descended from a creative spirit, Ikxaréeyav." For him, it is important to seek out that spirit. "We hold secrets," he explains, "that we don't even know exist." Art is the way to access those secrets. "The message comes through the creative spirit."

Recalling From the Source is open through Nov. 19. Goudi'ni Native American Arts Gallery is located near the corner of Union and 14th streets in Arcata, on the first floor of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building, BSS room 104. The gallery is open Wednesdays and Thursdays noon to 6 p.m., Fridays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and by appointment. 

L.L. Kessner is an Arcata-based artist and writer.

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